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Odysseus set foot on Ithaca trembling with wrath, his spear poised to fly through the heart of the first man unwise enough to cross him. He passed unopposed up to his old hall where instead of enemies he found his kinsmen turning to face him with wide eyes, exclaiming in wonder - he first thought it was a war-cry and nearly slew them. They drew him in among them, touching and praising him, all astonishment and delight except for Penelope (whose face had been the ground for the figure of his dreams), hardly aged and oddly quiet, lingering alone at the back of the crowd. He pushed his way through to her and reached out to touch her cheek but she evaded him and the crowd looked away, suddenly quiet, and Odysseus was aware that he had blundered. The next day they showed him her grave. For the rest of his time on Ithaca Odysseus avoided looking at her as she lingered in his house, staring out the window and idly running her fingertips over familiar things. He mastered his desire to seize her legs and kiss her thighs and hands for he knew she would turn to ash and shadow as soon as he touched her and moreover nothing is more disgraceful than to acknowledge the presence of the dead.
The Lost Books of the Odyssey, a book simultaneously mythic, magical, and beautifully styled, has been among my favorite books this year. Each story in Zachary Mason’s novel is a vignette on the shifting narrative of Odysseus’s life, journey, and return that will keep you dog-earing pages for moments when nothing short of the perfect phrase will do. Give it a shot.